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Zero Bias – A CQ Editorial



*e-mail: w2vu@cq-amateur-radio.com

Happy New Year! The start of a new year is always a good time to go back to basics and to re-examine not only what we do but why we do it. Amateur radio in the United States is built around five basic themes, as spelled out at the very beginning of Part 97 of the FCC's rules:

§97.1 Basis and purpose.
The rules and regulations in this Part are designed to provide an amateur radio service having a fundamental purpose as expressed in the following principles: (a) Recognition and enhancement of the value of the amateur service to the public as a voluntary noncommercial communication service, particularly with respect to providing emergency communications. (b) Continuation and extension of the amateur's proven ability to contribute to the advancement of the radio art. (c) Encouragement and improvement of the amateur service through rules which provide for advancing skills in both the communications and technical phases of the art. (d) Expansion of the existing reservoir within the amateur radio service of trained operators, technicians, and electronics experts. (e) Continuation and extension of the amateur's unique ability to enhance international goodwill.

We are all familiar (or we should be) with amateur radio's value to the public in terms of emergency communications (a). Last month in this space, we discussed the balancing of "the communications and technical phases of the radio art" (c). So this month, let's look at (b), (d) and (e), all of which focus on some truly important roles that amateur radio operators can play in society.

Fighting Terror With DXing

Let's start with (e), the amateur's unique ability to enhance international goodwill. I am writing this in the aftermath of November's terrorist attacks in Paris and other places, as far away from international goodwill as one can get. Yet, I couldn't help but think that, in the long run, amateur radio is part of the solution to the terrorist mindset.

One of the techniques that terrorists use is to demonize and dehumanize those whom they perceive to be their enemies. Amateur radio focuses on our shared humanity, giving us the opportunity to meet, learn about, and perhaps become friends with people from many different countries and many different ethnic and cultural groups. If someone around us tries to demonize all of the members of a particular group or nationality, we can say, "No. That's wrong. I know people in that group and they're not all like that."

The more of us there are who can counter efforts at dehumanizing people from other countries and cultures, the less influence the terrorists and people like them will have. Art, music, and sports share these attributes, but you can't reap the person-to-person benefits in these other areas without someone leaving home and traveling a long distance. We can work DX from our homes. Perhaps the next time you're on the air, you can make an effort to have more than a "59, 73" sort of QSO with a DX station and really try to learn a little bit about each other. It's part of amateur radio's "unique ability to enhance international goodwill."

Watching Science Happen

Something else that ham radio lets us do from home that many other activities can't is science. Ham radio provides us with regular reminders that science is not some abstract thing that only happens in a laboratory. It happens all around us every day and can be observed and studied from the comfort of our homes, often with little or no specialized equipment.

The other morning, I had the opportunity to observe space science in action from my basement ham shack, as I watched 15 meters "wake up" for the day. When I first tuned the band, I could hear only one station. He was quite loud, and quite alone in my receiver a station in Belgium with a special prefix marking the anniversary of the end of World War I. I worked him and continued to tune around. Slowly, I began to hear other European stations coming up out of the noise as the sun heated the upper layers of the atmosphere between us and got those electrons bouncing around between atoms in the ionosphere. Watching science happen … in my basement.

Amateur radio encourages "citizen science" at a time when scientific research often seems to be the sole province of large corporations, major universities, and the federal government. But we can say, "No. We can do science, too. And we don't need a multimillion dollar lab 'to contribute to the advancement of the radio art.' We've got our own laboratories in our homes, consisting of our radios, our computers, and our antennas." Being citizen scientists and experimenters helps us achieve "(d) Expansion of the existing reservoir within the amateur radio service of trained operators, technicians, and electronics experts."

The bottom line is this: Amateur radio may be a hobby, practiced by a very small slice of the world's population. But our impact on the world is much greater than our numbers suggest, from providing emergency communications "when all else fails" to conducting person-to-person diplomacy and citizen science. What we do matters, and it has impact far beyond ourselves. We should never forget that.

Casting a Spell One other unique aspect of amateur radio that isn't set out in the FCC rules is: magic. Whenever people ask me how ham radio is different from the Internet, I reply immediately, "Magic. There's no magic on the Internet. Radio is magic."

Nearly everything on the Internet is connected by wires (and those parts that aren't are connected by radio). It's complex and it's fast, but there's no magic. Radio, on the other hand, really shouldn't work! I stick up a wire in my yard, press the switch on my microphone and somebody hears me (I hope) in some other part of the world. And the best part is that you never really know where that's going to be.

Example: After suffering through really bad noise problems on the higher HF bands during the CQWW DX Contest SSB weekend, I turned on the rig the following weekend to see if things had improved or if I'd need to play noise detective. Thankfully, the noise was gone. And just to make sure everything was working OK on the transmit end, when I heard a station on 10 meters working a bunch of people, I gave him a call and he came right back. It turned out to be Javier, CA7CAQ, on the island of Chiloe (IOTA SA-018) about halfway down the coast of Chile.

Think about it. In what other activity can you fire up your equipment to make sure everything is working OK and randomly get confirmation that it is from half a world away? I've been doing this ham radio thing for 45 years now, and contacts like that simply never get old. It's the magic that makes ham radio absolutely unique.

For 2016, why not make a New Year resolution to yourself to try something new and different (or more of what you love) in ham radio to keep the magic happening? And more importantly, cast a spell on someone else!

– 73, W2VU

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